Dutch supermarkets lack responsibility

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Dutch supermarkets lack responsibility to stimulate healthy food choices. They claim it is customers responsibility. Supermarkets are wrong, but stakes are too high to change. A different approach is needed.

Supermarkets promote unhealthy eating

Research (2022) shows that Dutch supermarkets do little to make healthy eating easy. Discount deals, assortment and store design make unhealthy options attractive. Company policy to encourage healthy choices is almost entirely lacking or not assessable.

About 70 percent of our daily food comes from the supermarket. Supermarkets therefore have a major influence on our diet. In recent years, supermarkets have made commitments to encourage healthy choices. These commitments are set out in the National Prevention Agreement since 2018, with the goal to reduce overweight/ obesity among the Dutch adult population from 50% to 38%.

Research shows that 7 of the 8 supermarkets surveyed, are not transparant about whether they comply with the agreements in the National Prevention Agreement. Accountability of policy is lacking.

On average, 80 percent of the discount deals in supermarket brochures fall outside the Dutch guidelines for healthy eating. Furthermore, all supermarkets increased advertisements for alcohol more and they have sugary soft drinks on sale every week.

There are hardly any convincing measures in supermarkets that promote healthy eating and discourage unhealthy choices. Virtually all supermarkets entice their customers to make unhealthy choices at checkout. Those products are often targeted at children. Also, all supermarkets continue to use child marketing for unhealthy products in several product groups, such as breakfast cereals, soft drinks, desserts and candy.[1]

Positive development in plant- based products

Research (2023) shows that at most supermarkets a plant-based shopping basket is cheape rthan the animal-based one. This is partly explained by inflation. Meat has become more expensive due to inflation, compared to meat substitutes. In addition, the range of own-brand plant-based products has expanded, and these are cheaper than A-brands. Also, some supermarkets are implementing pricing policies on plant-based products. However, plant-based alternatives for dairy still appear to be more expensive than animal-based versions.[2]

Response of supermarkets

According to the Dutch Central Bureau for Food Trade, which represents the interests of  he supermarket sector, supermarkets are doing enough to make healthy choices easier. In addition, supermarkets are not responsible for consumer’s choices. And that is a fundamental fallacy

Obesogenic environment

Many national and international scientific studies have now convincingly demonstrated that our lifestyle and health are largely influenced by our environment. Family, friends and the social norms in our residential area influence our behavior. The range, accessibility and affordability of healthy food, sports facilities and nature also play an important role in this. The socio-economic status of a neighborhood is known to influence body mass index. It is no coincidence that we now use the term Obesogenic Society. Our environment makes us obese and sick.[3]

Lifestyle, the individual is not to blame

Lifestyle diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and depression are chronic and have a huge impact on health care and economy. The increase in lifestyle diseases is alarming and so are the  consequences for society. An unhealthy diet is the second most important determinant of years of life loss due to premature death. In 2015, an unhealthy diet accounted for 8.1% of the total disease burden, 12,900 deaths and more than € 6 billion in health care expenditure. [4]

The choices we  make are more often unconscious than conscious and usually based on habits. Especially when it comes to lifestyle, nutrition and exercise. Rational considerations are the exception rather than the rule. We can no longer get away with the idea that lifestyle diseases are the mere fault and responsibility of the individual. That is thought too simplistic and, moreover, does not lead to an effective and structural approach to the lifestyle problems with which we as a society are confronted.

Multidisciplinary  and multi-perspective approach

An effective approach is one that is multidisciplinary and multi-perspective: In which all parties involved, at all conceivable levels in society take their responsibility, commit and stick to agreements. Supermarkets play a crucial role in this. The interests of preventive health must prevail over the commercial interests of the food industry. Puttng a bag of apples at the entrance and chocolate bars frontal at the checkout is of course not going to work. Things need to change. A covenant is too non-committal and the stakes are still too high not to change drastically.

It is simple: As long as there is no widely felt need, and involved parties are not willing to subordinate their own interests to the common good, it is a waste of time and money to expect change. The National Prevention Agreement is then a product for the stage, another of the many time- and money-wasting projects and an example of policy failure, which could have been predicted before its inception. [5]. 

Create your own health!©


[1] Question Mark. Superlijst gezondheid 2022.

[2] Question Mark. (februari 2024). Prijsverschillen tussen dierlijke en plantaardige producten in de Nederlandse supermarkt.

[3] Guo F, Bostean G, Berardi V, Velasquez AJ, Robinette JW. Obesogenic environments and cardiovascular disease: a path analysis using US nationally representative data. BMC Public Health. 2022 Apr 10;22(1):703. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-13100-4. PMID: 35399056; PMCID: PMC8994874.; Lake A, Townshend T. Obesogenic environments: exploring the built and food environments. J R Soc Promot Health. 2006 Nov;126(6):262-7. doi: 10.1177/1466424006070487. PMID: 17152319.; Mackenbach JD, Rutter H, Compernolle S, Glonti K, Oppert JM, Charreire H, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Brug J, Nijpels G, Lakerveld J. Obesogenic environments: a systematic review of the association between the physical environment and adult weight status, the SPOTLIGHT project. BMC Public Health. 2014 Mar 6;14:233. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-233. PMID: 24602291; PMCID: PMC4015813.; WHO (2016). Report of the Commission on EndingChildhood Obesity; Hobbs, M., Radley, D. Obesogenic environments and obesity: a comment on ‘Are environmental area characteristics at birth associated with overweight and obesity in school-aged children? Findings from the SLOPE (Studying Lifecourse Obesity PrEdictors) population-based cohort in the south of England’. BMC Med18, 59 (2020).

[4] RIVM (2018). Volksgezondheid Toekomst Verkenning.

[5] Houppermans, M.K. (2011). Twee kanten van de medaille. Een onderzoek naar de kwaliteit van de beleidsvoorbereiding.